About U.S. Merchant Marine Ships
Employees of the United States Navy worked extensively with asbestos throughout the 20th century. During peacetime and wartime alike, the Merchant Marine Fleet was central to the prosperity of the nation.
When the United States was at war, the fleet was utilized to equip troops with the supplies they needed.
In peaceful years, the ships were still needed for the import and export of goods in foreign and domestic commerce.
World War I Increases Shipbuilding
World War I led to an expansion in American shipping, beginning with an emergency shipbuilding program that began in 1917 — ships that relied on asbestos.
The expansion continued in the years after World War I and by the early 1920s, the U.S. had surpassed the U.K. for merchant fleets. More than 700 large steel freighters and almost 600 smaller sized freighters had been built.
By the time World War II had arrived, the United States merchant marine had a new purpose. The ships were used in a variety of military operations throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Post-World War II, foreign services on the main trade routes continued to thrive. Domestic shipping declined slightly in favor of railway transportation and trucking.
But all these ships still relied on asbestos, and veterans who served aboard them are now at risk of deadly cancers like mesothelioma.